What I've been reading - winter 2016


I have a bit of a long list for you today, mostly because I've been reading a ton of illustrated books lately. I recommend getting a stack of them and cozying up in a nest of some kind and reading for days. That's a good way to deal with the end of winter, right?


Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

Our local library was running a program that was sort of like a city-wide book club. They chose one book, had extra copies on hand, and created lots of games and challenges to take part in. My curiosity was piqued: it must be a good book if they thought the whole city should read it. I didn't end up taking part in any of the activities but I really enjoyed the book. It's sweet, and sad, and strange, and captivated my heart.

One morning Etta, a woman in her 80s, takes off from the farm she shares with her husband Otto in Saskatchewan (a Canadian prairie province) to walk to the sea. Along the way she meets a coyote named James who walks with her and helps her remember when she starts forgetting, and we learn all about her history with Otto and their friend Russell, in their small prairie town before and during the war. Otto stays home and makes full sized paper maché animals to pass the time while Etta is gone, which obviously endeared me to him tremendously.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

This was another book club selection and it was also quite sweet. The book is written entirely in letters between characters (which took some getting used to) and is set just after the occupation of the Channel Islands in Great Britain during World War II. Juliet is a writer who begins a correspondence with some of the residents of Guernsey and eventually goes to visit them and falls in love with the place and the people. Life under the Nazis was hard, and though it goes to some dark places, the book keeps a light touch. We feel for the characters, but we also see the hope of a joyful postwar existence.

Voyager by Diana Gabaldon

The third in the Outlander trilogy, this one was a little off the wall, but so much fun. After a 20 year separation, Claire goes back to the 1700s and her dashing Scottish lover. They have all kinds of adventures that end up taking them to Haiti and Jamaica. This is escape fiction at its best.

Non fiction

Rising Strong by Brené Brown

Everyone has been talking about this book, and I often see it paired with Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic. My friend describes it as "the failure book" since it's all about what happens when we fall flat on our face and have find a way to get up again. Brené writes about the three stages of getting back on our feet—the Reckoning, the Rumble, and the Revolution—and how we have to own our stories in order to live our most wholehearted life. Filled with great case studies, research, and solid techniques for grappling with our shame and fear, this books asks us to be brave and honest with ourselves. I think that anyone who is trying to live to the fullest of their potential should read this book (and everything else she's written).

Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin

I'm a wee bit obsessed with goals and habits at the moment so I put this one on hold at the library as soon as I heard about it. In it, Rubin explores how to use habits to create a better life. I love her Happiness Project book, and her list-based approach to life so I had high expectations. While she does offer a lot of useful strategies for forming good habits and letting go of bad ones, a lot of her stories are based on personal experience and somehow seemed less inspiring than Charles Duhigg's book on the same subject, The Power of Habit. It was an enjoyable read, though I'm not entirely sure that I took anything specific away from it.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

I've been hearing excerpts from and reviews of this book for awhile, and it seemed like an intriguing project. Ansari worked with sociologist Eric Klinenberg to research current dating habits, and how they're affected by technology like smartphones and online dating sights. I listened to the audiobook, which was read by Ansari, and had a ton of laughs while I was making dinner and washing dishes. Though the topic isn't that relevant to me since I'm not dating any more, it was a really interesting look at how romance is changing and the challenges and opportunities that young people have now. And it's written in a light, irreverent style that makes it as entertaining as it is informative.

Illustrated and children's books

There is no Right Way to Meditate and Other Lessons by Yumi Sakugawa

This is a lovely illustrated look at meditation and mindfulness. Reading the book was a great way to relax in itself, and the illustrations were delightful inspiration for the drawing project.

Pool by JiHyeon Lee

This book and the four following were on Brain Pickings best Children's Books and Best Art Books of 2015 lists. I put both lists on hold at the library and spent the Christmas holidays going through them. These are my favourites.

Pool is a wordless story about two new friends who dive down beneath the bustle of the swimming pool and discover a magical world. The pencil illustrations are soft and delicate and gave me a huge itch to start drawing and colouring!

Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson

This is another wordless story about a little girl who is walking through the city with her dad and keeps stopping to pick up flowers. Once she has a handful she starts leaving them as gifts and gives them all away by the end. The drawings are in pen and ink, and were also inspiring (can you tell I'm very focused on drawings right now?) and the simple story was heart-warming and uplifting.

Beastly Verse by JooHee Yoon

While this is technically a book of poetry, it was the illustrations in this book that drew me in: the author uses only 3 colours to print different shapes in layers and the results are explosively vibrant and exciting. As a printmaker, I with I could get inside her head and see exactly how she did it. The poems are from many different authors and eras, but share the theme of animals, and some are quite delightful.

Biophilia by Chrisopher Marley

Marley turns taxidermy into fine art with his brilliant collections of beetles, birds, and other stunning wildlife. In sections devoted to insects, under the sea, or reptiles, you'll gain a new love for the natural world: which is what the title refers to. Along the way, Marley will draw you into his process and share his passion for the beauty of living things. Don't worry, everything in the book (except the insects) died of natural causes.

Thunder & Lightening by Lauren Redniss

This book is amazing. Absolutely stunning. Redniss has combed the earth for the most interesting weather related stories from places as far flung as a remote Norwegian island that is dark most of the year and where there are more polar bears than people, to the immensely crowded courtyards of Mecca, to a Vermont cemetery washed away by flood.  She writes about how weather is manipulated for war and profit, and about the long history of weather prediction and the Farmer's Almanac. All along the way are gorgeous illustrations etched and printed by hand. Every page is a delight and a wonder. I moved through this book very slowly, taking in every detail, and occasionally shouting out the more surprising stories at my boyfriend from across the room.

Art how-to

Playing with Surface Design by Courtney Cerruti

Courtney's style of art is addictive. I follow her on Instagram and can't get enough. This book is a really fun look at easy printmaking and painting techniques for sprucing up gift wrapping and other projects. Books like this make me wish that I had a little room that I could go in where time would stop and I could spend days trying new things.

Knit the Sky by Lea Redmond

I'm not a knitter but this book has such an interesting concept that I had to check it out. Lea comes up with all kinds of knitting projects that are based on what you observe in your environment, random chance, or stories from your past. The title comes from a project where she challenges the reader to knit a scarf, one line every day, with each line being the colour of the sky that day. The final product will be a beautiful record of a year of weather. She even gives instructions for coming up with your own unique project. This book inspires me to use similar techniques for art making that help step out of the box and into something totally unexpected.


Beauty is Embarrassing

Have you ever seen something that has filled you so full of creative energy and inspiration that you actually think you might burst, and have no idea how to let it all out? This film did that to me. It profiles artist Wayne White through all his painting and puppet making adventures, and describes the type of prolific creativity that I wish I had. White was a set designer and puppeteer on Peewee's playhouse, and went on to build so many amazing things. He's currently known for his word paintings, where he takes a thrift store painting and fills the frame with a word or phrase - usually something to make people laugh.

What have you been reading and enjoying lately? Leave a comment below!